What's Up World: South African Vegetable and Bean Stew

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Welcome to week 4 of our What’s Up World series—each week my children and I read about a different county and cook a meal from that location. Our travels this week took us down to South Africa, a country that’s on my personal bucket list to visit one day (and for now, this will have to do!). We read about the idea that South Africa is sometimes called the rainbow country because people from so many different countries have settled there. You could say the same about the city where my family lives, too—we’re a part of a community where there is a lot of diversity of race, nationality, and religion—and I appreciated the opportunity to reinforce what I always tell my children at home: that God made everyone different and everyone special. In the book, the narrator's meal choices also hit home—he ate cereal for breakfast and macaroni and cheese for lunch. And then we got to the narrator’s dinner and the kids almost fell out of their seats. On his family table was tripe, a disguised word for sheep stomach. My kids begged me that the meal we choose to make NOT be tripe, and I agreed that it was something that none of us could stomach (<—see what I did there?).

So instead I consulted with my friend Sharon from www.cookingwithkidsNY.com who teaches international cooking classes and whose trips have taken her around the globe. She suggested that we make Githeri, an African stew made of beans, vegetables and spices. It sounded perfect!

Admittedly, this recipe required a lot of chopping, but my kids didn't mind one bit. The boys are thrilled any time they get to use their knives (we use these kid-friendly ones from Curious Chef), and they went to work chopping up peppers and scallions while I handled the the heartier potatoes and carrots.

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Once the veggies were all in the pot, we took turns smelling spices: curry, ginger, and coconut cream. I love watching their reaction. My 3 year old loved the smell of the curry while my 6 year  old wrinkled up his nose at the same smell. They both agreed that coconut cream was something we should  have every day, and it was hard to get them to stop sneaking tastes.

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Lastly, we dumped everything in a slow cooker and let it do its thing. On busy summer days it’s such a treat to come home to a done dinner and spend an extra half hour at the park rather than forcing everyone to retreat early so I can cook.

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For fun, I served this over alphabet-shaped pasta, but rice, quinoa or pita bread would make a nice substitution.

Getting kids to eat new flavors can be challenging, but getting them involved in the cooking process almost always guarantees that they'll try it.  If I were to serve this blindly, I can bet that it would have been a struggle for them to take a bite. But this time, they ate it happily and proudly showed my husband what they had made.

I too enjoyed the flavors and I plan to experiment with other vegetables depending on what's in season. This meal would freeze easily, so you could even make it in bulk and then freeze a portion for the future.

But for now, we're closing out our chapter in South Africa, and flying back to Asia. China, we're coming for you!

 

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GITHERI (vegetable and bean stew) makes 6 servings

Ingredients: 2 ears of corn, cut off the cob (or 2 cups of frozen corn kernals 2 cans of pinto or kidney beans* 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes 1 onion, diced 3 cloves garlic, minced 2" ginger, peeled and grated 3 scallions, sliced 1 potato, chopped 2 carrots, chopped 1 green pepper, chopped 1 tbsp curry powder 1 1/2 cups of coconut cream 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp pepper handful of cilantro, chopped (additional ingredients only needed if cooking on a stovetop) 1 tbsp butter 1 tbsp olive oil 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

Directions: (for the slow cooker) Add all ingredients to a slow cooker through cilantro and mix well. Set on low and cook for 8 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro.

(for the stovetop) Heat a large dutch oven on medium heat and add the vegetable oil and butter. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add curry powder and cook another 1-2 minutes. Add tomato puree to the pot. Reduce the heat to a low simmer for 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens a bit. Add the potato, pepper, carrots, scallion, corn, beans, vegetable stock, coconut cream, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes until vegetables are soft. Add cilantro and cook several minutes for the flavors to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*Traditional canned beans contain a high amount of sodium. Rinse before using or look for low sodium or organic beans instead.

What's Up World: Italian Lemon Semifreddo

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It's hard to believe that we're already  halfway through our What's Up World series! This week, we landed in Italy, and the pressure to perform is really on. For one, the majority of my background is Italian. And also, we live in a city with a heavy Italian influence. It's a place where older ladies line up outside the Italian deli on Saturday mornings to buy fresh-baked focaccia bread, where masses are said in Italian on Sundays, and where names like Frank Sinatra and the Cake Boss hail from. As we began reading through the book about Italy, I felt distracted, wondering what kind of food we would cook from the country. It was too hot for heavier Italian fare, and pizza was out of the question because we admittedly eat it too much. A quick search had me counting 22 pizza parlors within a 1 mile radius of our home. Luckily, the book helped me decide. The school aged narrator began her day as most children do in Italy with a breakfast full of cookies, cakes and bread.  You can imagine the initial excitement from my kids as they read this—a response that was soon followed by the realization of the unfairness of it all. Why do THEY get to eat cake for breakfast and we don't?

"My dear children," I said as I wrapped my arms around them and pressed them closer to me. "One day when you're a parent like me, you can drop your kids off at school, go straight to the coffee shop, and eat the biggest and the best breakfast pastries every single morning. And you can eat the whole thing by yourself without anyone asking for a bite.  Didn't you know that's what mommy does while you're at boring school?  I eat cake all day long."

Okay I didn't actually say that, but a part of me may have taken the smallest pinch of pleasure in watching their reaction to this imaginary tale. So instead, I said yes, that we can make a dessert, but that we would eat it after dinner. And so we went to it.

We went with a lemon semifreddo--an ice cream-like dessert that requires no ice cream maker, which is good, because I don't have one. Traditionally, to make a semifreddo, you would line a loaf pan with plastic wrap and pour the mixture inside the pan until it's frozen. Then you simply lift out the mold, unwrap it from the plastic, and be left with a beautiful rectangular cake. For our version, we went with individual glass ramekins so there would be no fighting over who got the bigger slice, and also because of that wonderful unknown that comes with giving children something glass and holding your breath that it won't break. Also, aren't they pretty?

 

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Lemon desserts transport me back to the last time I was in Italy--it was a few months before I got pregnant with my oldest child and my husband and I had gone to the coastal city of Positano where lemons grow as big as melons. This dessert would give us the opportunity to tell the kids about the trip, and maybe even remind my husband that our 10 year anniversary is coming up and that a trip back to Italy would be a lovely present that I would think that I wanted until I boarded the imaginary plane sobbing about the potential dangers that could occur overseas and away from our children.

But back to real life in my kitchen. For this recipe, the kids took turns using the electric mixer and I stressed to them that the beaters always had to touch the bottom of the bowl, unless they wanted a sugar explosion all over the kitchen, which in retrospect, they wouldn't have minded. With my assistance, they learned to hold the bowl steady with one hand and hold the beater in the other. They also enjoyed squeezing the lemon juice and sucking on the remaining peel. Do any of your kids like eating lemon as much as mine do?

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Overall, the hardest part for this recipe was patience in waiting for the ice cream to harden and in keeping the freezer shut long enough so that it would--they loved sneaking peeks! And as you can imagine with any recipe that uses sugar as the main ingredient, the kids loved every last lick that they could get. My husband and I still have no international travel plans, but I would otherwise say that our trip to Italy was a success!

Be sure to join us next week as we fly to South Africa!

 

Lemon Semifreddo

makes 8  6-ounce ramekins or 1 9x5x3 loaf pan

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon confectioners sugar

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

7 large organic egg yolks

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (approximately 4-5 lemons)

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups mixed berries

Directions:

Using electric mixer, beat whipping cream in large bowl until soft peaks form. Transfer all but 1  cup of whipped cream into a separate bowl and refrigerate. Add confectioner's sugar to the remaining whipped cream and beat for 1 minute more. Place the sweetened whipped cream in the refrigerator.

In a large glass or metal bowl, whisk together granulated sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon and salt.  Set bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly until mixture registers 170°F, about 4-5 minutes. Carefully remove bowl from the saucepan and place it on the countertop. Using an electric mixer, beat mixture for at least 5 minutes until cool and thick. Fold in UNSWEETENED chilled whipped cream. Divide mixture evenly among ramekins and freeze at least 8 hours. Once ready to serve, dollop semifreddo with sweetened whipped cream and fresh berries.

What's Up World: Indian Spiced Chicken Kebabs

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We're continuing our virtual trip to the beautiful county of India (if you're new here, you can learn more about our adventure HERE to join us--it's never to late!). This country, I told the boys, was ALL THE WAY around the world, and they used that information to spend the next three minutes fighting over who could spin the globe to the other side because nothing brings out that special side of siblings like summer vacation. Once both had the opportunity to spin that very object that's on display every day but otherwise gets ignored lest the other shows interest, we moved on to reading all about this special country. IMG_6299

Like the book we read about Brazil, the story about India was narrated by a school-aged girl, and this one had 56 kids in her class. I was surprised to learn that schools are so full in India, that students are divided into two groups--those who attend school in the morning and others who go in the afternoon--to keep up with the demand. We finished the book and I couldn't wait to move on to trying the recipe.

I wouldn't dream about writing about Indian cuisine without consulting my friend Kanchan who grew up there but now lives in Brooklyn. Her cookbook and blog, Spice Spice Baby, include recipes that span from babyhood to adulthood and will inspire you to experiment with all different kind of spices. She also has a Ph.D. in Biomedicine from Harvard (#girlpower for real!) and I love how she incorporates the information about healing power of various spices into her cuisine.

We decided to make these super flavorful chicken kebabs from her cookbook that happened to be her childhood favorite food. On her son's first trip to India, her mother cooked these same kebabs for him, and he devoured them just as she had done as a kid! I personally like using familiar foods as a vehicle for introducing new flavors, so I was excited to make these with my kids. Plus, anything on a stick is always fun to eat and inevitably turns into a kebab sword fight. Ah, boys.

I chopped up the onion, garlic and ginger while the kids picked off  leaves off cilantro and mint. I set out a cutting board and asked them to put the stems in one pile and the leaves in the other, and they went right to it. We also took turns smelling the ginger, garam masala, garlic, and herbs. Once we blended up the herb mixture in the food processor, I sealed off that and the chicken in a large zip lock bag, and the kids got to squish it around to evenly distribute. I left the kebab skewering to yours truly because there wouldn't be enough bandaids in the house to cover the potential boo-boo damage otherwise.

 

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My whole family ate these right up, including my 1 year old whose chicken I chopped into tiny bite size pieces. These make a great flavorful food for baby-led weaning. Introducing infants to a variety of herbs and spices can make them better eaters--in fact studies show that the more flavors a baby is exposed to before age 1 translates to the more variety of foods they eat at age 7.

 

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We're having so much fun with this series, and can't wait to land in our next stop: Italy!

 

Chicken Kebabs with Garam Masala, Mint and Cilantro

makes 12 kebabs

Ingredients:

½ small red onion, roughly chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

A fistful of fresh cilantro (leaves and soft stems)

4-6 mint leaves

1 teaspoon peeled and grated ginger

1 teaspoon garam masala (make your own as in Page X or store-bought)

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins, chopped into 1 inch pieces

Coconut oil

Lemon juice

Directions:

In a food processor,  blend together the first 7 ingredients until onion, and herbs are minced and mixed well. Transfer meat and herb mixture to a a gallon sized ziplock bag and mix well. 

Mold the meat mixture into 2-inch long kebabs and set aside.

Heat a grill pan or skillet to medium and brush lightly with coconut oil. Cook the kebabs, turning them every minute or so for 10-12 minutes to ensure even cooking all around. Brush the kebabs with coconut oil while cooking, every few minutes, to prevent them from drying out. If cooking in batches, avoid over-crowding and brush the skillet with more oil as needed between batches. Check one kebab for doneness – it should not be pink in the middle.

Serve with a cilantro and mint yogurt sauce or enjoy with a squeeze of lemon.  Freeze the cooked kebabs for up to 3 months – just thaw and reheat on a grill pan before serving.

What's Up World: Brazilian Empanadas

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Welcome to the first week of our What’s Up World weekly summer series! For the next six weeks, we’re going to be taking an imaginary trip around the globe, reading one book from the Living in Around the World Collection and making a recipe that represents that country. (You can read more about the series by CLICKING HERE.)

Remember the international vacations you used to take with your spouse before you had children—the afternoons spent wandering down foreign cobblestone streets, sauntering through museums, and enjoying a leisurely glass of wine at at outdoor cafe? This is nothing like that. (What? You have kids now.) Instead, we’ll be exploring different cultures from the comfort of your own kitchen. There are no pricey plane tickets, no museum meltdowns, and no judgement if you choose to pour yourself a glass while you cook, because cooking with kids can have a common side effect of driving parents to drink. I kid, I kid.

We started our trip in Brazil, and I was surprised to see how interested my 3 and 6 year old boys were in learning about the country and locating it on our globe. This particular book about Brazil was narrated by a school aged boy that my kids could easily identify with. Like them, he lives in an apartment in the city and wears a uniform to school. I liked that the boys could see themselves in the narrator, and we talked about how his life would be similar and different to theirs. I personally have found that motherhood is a role that makes the world seem so much smaller since we all share many of the same struggles and joys, and I hope that on some level, this book helped my kids feel this way too.

For the recipe, we went with a traditional Brazilian baked empanada that they refer to as Pastel al Forno made with chorizo, potato, and bell peppers. In Brazil, they typically bake their empanadas instead of frying them, which makes for a healthier recipe and a quicker clean-up. I did most of the chopping in advance, and the boys helped me (I use the term "help" very loosely--ha!) by taking turns sauteeing the filling, spooning the filling into the disks, wetting the edges of the disks, and poking holes in the top with a fork so that the steam could escape. These type of empanadas, I told them, were Brazil's version of fast food--something you could grab and go as an afternoon snack or quick meal--though they were disappointed that I didn't know if kids' meals in Brazil came with a toy.

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It's been a while since I've cooked with my kids--evenings in the school year are just too chaotic--but I was pleasantly reminded how excited the kids were to have a hand in making the recipe and trying it. They couldn't wait to try the finished product and were so thrilled to shove food into their sister's mouth  offer their sister bites of what they made. For us, this recipe was a huge success (my oldest ate 3!), and I believe it was partly because they helped out and also because the elements inside the filling were familiar enough--they're used to eating sausage, potatoes, and peppers. I'm planning on making this again and using it for lunchbox stuffers throughout the week.

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You can also make extra filling by doubling the recipe below. Alone, it makes a delicious hash that you could top with a fried egg.

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Here's hoping the next stop will be as successful. Join us next week as we head halfway around the world to India!

Chorizo, Potato, and Pepper Empanadas

makes 12 empandas

Ingredients:

1 package refrigerated pie crusts, cut into 12  1 1/2 in circles and then rolled out with a rolling pin until they are a 3 inch diameter*

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

3 chorizo links, diced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

1 small russet potato, diced

1 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Directions:

Make filling: Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add chorizo, onion, peppers and potato to the saucepan, and stir until vegetables and potato are fork tender, around 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and oregano, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes more. Cool filling to room temperature.

Form empanadas. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a small bowl of water next to the disks. Place 12 disks on a lightly floured surface, and spoon 2 tablespoons of filling into the center of the disk. Dip your fingers in the water, and run them around the outer edges of the disk. Fold dough in half and seal the edges with a fork. Flip the disk and use the fork to crimp the other side. Poke a hole in the top of the empanada, brush with olive oil, and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining 11 disks.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until empanadas are golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*You can also use empanada discos found in the freezer section of the grocery stores--just be sure to buy the variety that are meant for baking not frying.

Introducing our new summer series: What's Up World

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Every summer, I like to torture myself bond with my children by forgoing camp and keeping them home with me to create our own fun. I begin the summer with a picture perfect vision of the upcoming 12 weeks. In the mornings, we’ll practice Spanish and reading and penmanship. There will be weekly tennis lessons, trips to museums and waterparks, and picnic baskets filled with hydrating snacks like sliced cucumbers and watermelon, because one can never be too hydrated on scorching summer days. Then summer happens, and by day three our Spanish lessons turn into YouTube episodes of  Paw Patrol en espanol—not like we can hear the language over the cries of I just want regular Paw Patrol—and reading only gets done when I pay my 6 year old actual money to read something—A…N…Y…T…H…I…N…G. And I quickly realize that tennis rackets would only be used by my boys to beat each other, because every object in our home has somehow transformed into into a tear-producing weapon.

So it’s only natural that I’m here to document our new summer project and ask you to join in on our family fun. We will play and read and eat and learn. Welcome to the What’s Up World Series. Here’s how it works:

Every week, our family will read a different book about a country (we’re reading the Living In Around the World Collection), but you could visit your local library and pick any book about the culture.To start, we'll make stops in Brazil, India, Mexico, China, Italy, and South Africa. My 6 year old will have a chance to practice his reading, but parents of younger kids can read the book to their children, and we’ll all locate the country on the globe. Then together we’ll make a recipe from that country that’s suitable for all ages (my kids are 1, 3, and 6, so this can be something we all can eat.). I will post our recipes and stories every Thursday, and we’ll eat through a total of 6 countries this summer. I’ve always found that cooking with my children is the best way to get them to eat what I’m making, and this will introduce new flavors and expand their palates in a way they can get excited about. Oh and let me not forgot about the beautiful bonding that unites siblings when they cook together. Parents of two kids or more can watch their darlings yank measuring spoons out of their sibling's hand exchange pleasantries like "It would make me happier if you go first, sister."

And the benefits just keep coming: there’s reading, there’s geography, there’s food, there’s culture, there is the insanity of embarking on a new family project and not knowing where it will take you. The adventure begins June 28--first stop: Brazil!

My oldest is 6! Six things I've learned in 6 years about successfully feeding kids

My oldest is 6! Six things I've learned in 6 years about successfully feeding kids

This weekend is my firstborn son's 6th birthday. I'll spare you the sob story about how fast time goes  (although it's very true!), but this particular birthday, I've been reflecting on how much we have both changed in those six short years. My oldest holds a special place in my heart not only for all the time that we had together just the two of us (sadly, my other two children never got all that one-on-one mommy time), but also because he was the reason I started this exact business. . .

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Chocolate-Avocado Pudding

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Back in 2012 when I first started teaching baby food cooking classes, a client of mine mentioned that her husband had been making chocolate avocado pudding, and that her baby was gobbling it right up. I put the idea on my imaginary list of recipes that I wanted to recreate, and then—-like every other item on my to-do list that I write in my head but never on paper—I completely forgot about it. Fast forward five years when that baby of hers is ready to graduate kindergarten, and here I am in my kitchen finally checking off this recipe. Do I regret not trying this sooner? Yes, but mostly because recently when I pay for avocados at checkout, I have to do a doubletake (2 for $5--seriously?!) and then you get home, cut it open, and it's all pit. Five years ago, if I can remember correctly, the world was a cheaper place for avocados, and hashtags like #avocadoproblems and #avocadofail and #willworkforavocados (okay fine I made that last one up), were not yet a thing.

But I digress.

In truth, this recipe was a real win for the kids, and I already am thinking ahead to tweaking the recipe for avocado-chocolate fudgsicles this summer (stay tuned!). The avocado creates a perfectly creamy texture and a blank slate that lets the chocolate from cacao powder and semi-sweet chocolate chips really shine through. It comes together in minutes after a whirl in a food processor or blender, and since it's made without refined sugar, it's a treat that I'm happy to serve my kids regularly. Also, unlike every other avocado recipe in the world, this can be made up to 24 hours in advanced and stored in the refrigerator. Because of the chocolate, there's no telling if the avocado turns brown.

Finally, another perk to this recipe is that it's allergy friendly--perfect for friends who are allergic to milk or eggs. But everyone will love it!

CHOCOLATE AVOCADO PUDDING makes 4 servings Ingredients: 2 medium ripe avocados 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips 1/4 cup cacao powder* 1 tsp pure vanilla extract 1/4 cup milk (cows, almond, coconut, or even water) pinch of salt 1/4 cup pure maple syrup Directions: In a microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate chips according to package directions. Cool for a few minutes, then add them to a food processor or blender with the remaining ingredients. Blend until no lumps remain, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Transfer mousse to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 20 minutes (or up to 24 hours before serving.

*I use cacao powder instead of cocoa powder because it is much less processed than cocoa powder and it contains a crazy high amount of fiber, nutrients, antioxidants and magnesium. You can find it in the same location in the grocery store as traditional cocoa powder. Yes, it's more expensive, but we use it sparingly enough that it's worth it for us.

Pea and Mint Guacamole

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I'm all about feeding my family the same foods (because: sanity), and guacamole is my go-to at least twice a week. The baby gets hers mashed and spoon fed, my 3 and 6 year olds like it with chips or spread on crackers, and I do the cliche avocado toast. I love using foods that they already like as a vehicle for getting them to taste new flavors, and this is an example of that. In place of lime juice and cilantro, this springy, refreshing version is made with fresh lemon juice, mint, and peas. The peas give the guac a serving of protein (yep, peas contain this filling, muscle-building nutrient!). You could add the peas whole, slightly mashed up, or use it for leftover baby food pea puree--because cooking one thing for everyone is always a win!  

PEA AND MINT GUACAMOLE

Ingredients: 2 ripe avocados 1/2 cup peas OR 1/2 cup pea puree 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, chopped juice from half a lemon salt and pepper to taste

Directions:  Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mash with a back of a fork until you reach the desired chunkiness (I like mine a little chunky; the kids like theirs smoother). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pink Pitaya Pancakes

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There's nothing that makes me happier than the first few days of Spring, when the sun is shining and the kids can (finally!) play outdoors without the need to bundle them up into 1000 layers. It's a freedom and joy you can only get from months of being crammed up indoors, complaining about itchy hats, and picking-up-the-dropped-glove calisthenics done by yours truly. This was finally the first weekend that truly felt like Spring has stopped changing its mind and is finally here to stay, and to celebrate, I made these cheery hot pink pancakes. These Pitaya packs caught my eye in the frozen fruit aisle of the grocery store last week, and I've been brainstorming about what to make with them. I knew my boys would love their name (Pitaya is another name for Dragonfruit). Plus a pink pancake would be a nice break from all the green spinach I usually blend into their foods to turn it green.

Plus, dragonfruit gives pancakes a nice dose of vitamin C and fiber and it has a relatively neutral flavor. And although the name is a mouthful ("pitaya"), these pancakes are as easy to make as regular ones. They came together in 5 minutes! All it took was one packet of dragonfruit and boy did these pancakes turn PINK! They were so much fun to eat, and the boys loved them for the name and the color (boys like pink, too!).

Pancakes are one of my favorite finger foods for babies too, since they're nice and soft and get easily cut up into the perfect size for babies. My 1-year-old ate these right up!

Pink Pitaya Pancakes makes 15-18 pancakes Ingredients: 2 cups whole wheat flour (you can sub all purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour) 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder 1 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt 1 packet of frozen pitaya, defrosted 1 3/4 cups coconut milk (you can substitute regular milk, buttermilk, or almond milk) 2 large eggs 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted, plus more for cooking pancakes Directions: In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together pitaya, milk, eggs, vanilla, and melted butter. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Let the batter sit for 5 minutes. Melt butter on large griddle over medium heat. Spoon about 1/4 batter per pancake on the surface and cook until bubbles start to form on the pancake; flip and cook until cooked through. Serve drizzled with peanut butter, almond butter, or pure maple syrup.

Healthier 1st Birthday Smash Cake

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It's so hard to believe that a full year has gone by since our baby Mae was born. She's brought pure joy into our lives because of her happy spirit and the way in which she turns her two older brothers into mushy love balls when they're around her. Baby love is the sweetest and most innocent love--that's for sure! Mae has been a great eater since I introduced her to real food at around 6 months old, and I'm cherishing this stage of feeding; she's too young to talk back or have an opinion, and she happily gobbles up everything I put in front of her. I know this stage is fleeting, so I'm enjoying every mealtime moment!

And when it came to making her first birthday smash cake, I wanted to give her something that was both delicious, but that didn't have any artificial yucky stuff like fake coloring or refined sugar. In fact, this cake is free of oils, butter, refined sugar, and food dyes. Instead, it's sweetened with lots of fresh fruit and a touch of pure maple syrup. The result is cake that has more of a muffin-like consistency--it's certainly not light and fluffy, but it IS sweet and delicious. I used cake flour for the batter, but you could easily substitute the same amount whole wheat, white whole wheat, or oat flour.

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In lieu of a traditional buttercream icing that uses an entire box of confectioner's sugar, I went for a whipped cream topping made pink by adding in 1/8 cup of defrosted-from-frozen raspberries. The berries turned the batter a pretty pale pink. I later tested the recipe with an equal part of defrosted-from-frozen blackberries which turned the cream a beautiful purple hue. You can add in a tablespoon of confectioner's sugar to the cream topping for sweetness (I did), or omit it all together.

Lastly, I baked this in jumbo muffin tins (it made 6), but this amount of batter would fill 2 4 1/2 inch circular cake pans.

Mae loved her smash cake and dipping her chubby little fingers in the frosting. I felt great about giving her something GOOD. The boys loved the cake too and their only complaint was about who would be the one to blow out her candle--ha!

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Healthier Smash Cake Ingredients: (for the cake) 1 cup cake flour 1/2 teaspoon aluminum free baking powde 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 medium ripe banana 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce 1/4 cup whole milk 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 egg (for the icing) 1 cup heavy whipping cream 1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar (optional) 1/8 cup raspberries or blackberries, defrosted from frozen Directions: For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray muffin tins or cake pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside. In a blender, add banana, applesauce, milk, and maple syrup and vanilla. Blend until completely smooth. Whisk in the egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry and stir until just combined; do not over mix. Divide batter evening among prepared pans. Bake for 14 minutes for standard cupcakes, 18 minutes for jumbo muffins, or 22 minutes for a 4 1/2 inch cake pan. Let cakes cool for 5 minute in the pan then transfer to wire racks. Cool completely before adding the icing. For the Frosting: Using an electric mixer, beat the heavy whipping cream and sugar, if using, until soft peaks form. Add in berries, if using, and beat until hard peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use. Then use a rubber spatula to ice the cake. Store iced cake in the refrigerator to serve.

An Easter Classic: Grandma's Macaroni Pie

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I interrupt this recipe to share breaking news: A new highly scientific study found that calories consumed on holidays don't actually count. Are you convinced yet? Good, because you're going to need eggs (1 dozen), plain old white spaghetti (1 pound) and a teeny half pound of salty cheese. Are you still here?To the one person who hasn't clicked away in horror, you won't regret this. Because dishes created by authentic Italian Grandmas don't usually come with a recipe. But lucky for you, this was well studied as I made this alongside my grandma who told me every ingredient was measured "to taste." Hmmm... In case you're wondering exactly what the heck this is, macaroni pie is a classic Italian Easter tradition and something I look forward to every year. Unlike what its name suggests, macaroni pie isn’t actually a pie, it’s more like baked macaroni and cheese that’s cut into squares and served as an appetizer. But even that doesn't do it justice. It's salty from the freshly grated pecorino cheese, spicy from the large heap of pepper, and perfect in every way, You could serve it with a side of garlicky tomato sauce to dip, or even mixed in some steamed and chopped broccoli, but I like the way it is in its classic form--a no-frills, 4-ingredient classic.

Grandma’s Macaroni Pie

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9×13 pan. Cook one pound of spaghetti according to the package directions. In a bowl, whisk one dozen eggs, 1/2 pound grated Pecorino cheese, and one tablespoon black pepper. Add the cooked spaghetti to the egg mixture (eggs will begin to cook a little, but that’s okay). Pour mixture into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Bake for one hour, covered with foil, until a fork comes out clean.

Green Pancakes!

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Is there any better excuse to force-feed your child get your child excited about green food than St. Patrick's day? I swear by baby spinach as my favorite healthy way to turn favorite foods green. It has a neutral flavor that blends seamlessly into whatever you're making: breads, muffins, smoothies, and pancakes! (Take a look at our yummy spinach muffins, here!) It gives these foods a vibrant green color--and not to mention a healthy dose of nutrients--without having to use food dyes. I've been known to blend it into pesto and even into my kids mac and cheese. Here, I added spinach to the blender with the wet ingredients of the pancakes so no evidence remains that there is spinach in these pancakes if you think your kids would be wary. But my kids are used to seeing the little green leaves go right into the blender, so they were happy to press the button and watch the milk turn green. I sweeten these naturally with banana, and you could easily replace that with 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce if you have that on hand. I also use white whole wheat flour so the color pops, but you could easily sub all-purpose flour or regular whole wheat flour, though the color might not be as vibrant with the latter.

Whatever you decide, this is the perfect HEALTHY green breakfast for St. Paddy's Day, don't you think?

GREEN PANCAKES makes 8 pancakes Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups packed fresh spinach
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions: In a blender, combine the spinach, milk, banana, and egg  and blend until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Heat a large griddle over medium heat and grease with butter. Pour 2 tablespoons of the pancake mixture for each pancake and cook until the top begins to bubble, around 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook for one minute longer and serve.

Protein-packed granola!

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When parents tell me that their child is ahead in reading or sports, I like to brag that mine are at least 15 years past their age when it comes to food. By that, I mean that they've channeled their future frat boy diet and could live off of cereal at every meal. 

 In fact the single food truth I swear by, is that if you pour it out of a cereal box, they will eat it. There are a whole bunch of good-for-you cereals out there (more on that HERE), but cereals for breakfast can fall short on the protein they need to sustain them until snack time.

In fact, the best breakfasts for kids (and adults too!)  have 3 components to keep you full and energized:

  1. Protein (found in eggs, yogurt, lean deli cuts, cheese, and nut butters)

  2. Whole grains (found in oatmeal, whole grain breads, multigrain waffles, and cereals)

  3. Fruit

Most kids don't have trouble eating the latter two as their morning meal, but protein at breakfast can be harder for them to swallow--especially since the morning rush leaves little time for frying up a few eggs. Enter your child's (and your!) next best option: homemade granola. This version is made with protein-packed oats, grains, and seeds. And unlike store versions, it's not full of crazy amounts of added sugar. It's also crunchy (a win with kids!), full of filling fiber, and made with and nuts and seeds for healthy fats to give the brain a big boost. But best of all, it is delicious.

Think of this recipe as a blank slate: If you don´t have all the ingredients,  feel free to skip some or replace other nuts, dried fruits, or seeds. Best of all, this keeps well in the freezer, so you can make a big batch and always have it on hand.  

My kids and I eat it with wild blueberries, ½ banana and low fat yogurt. You could also pour it into an old cereal box (shhh!) if you really want them to love it. 

Protein-Packed Granola 

Makes 4 cups (I usually double it since it goes fast in our house)

Ingredients:

1 cup rolled oats ¼ cup wheat germ ¼ cup flax seed ¼ cup raw sunflower seeds ¼ cup chopped raw almonds ¼ cup chopped raw walnuts ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds ¼ cup dried unsweetened grated coconut 2-3 Tbsp. canola or olive oil 2-3 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey ¼ cup water ½ cup of mixed dried berries like raisins, apricots or cranberries

Directions.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, wheat germ, flax seed, coconut, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.

In a small bowl, mix together the oil, honey or maple syrup, and water in a small bowl. Pour the liquid into the oat mixture and stir until it is well incorporated.

Spread the mixture the mixture on the baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake until crisp and golden, about 30 minutes, mixing occasionally so everything cooks evenly.

Let the mixture cool completely on the baking sheet, then return the mixture to the large bowl and stir in the dried fruit. Store in an airtight container at room temperature (it'll last for at least a few weeks) or transfer to the freezer.

Better baby food: zucchini with nut-free pesto (plus a bonus family recipe of pesto chicken risotto!)

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One of the most common questions I get from parents who are making their own baby food is "What's next?"Once their baby has moved beyond single-ingredient purees, they're ready to introduce more flavors, but aren't quite sure where to start. The baby phase when your little one is happily gobbling up everything is THE best time to introduce a whole variety of foods. In fact, studies show that babies who are exposed to a variety of flavors before age 1 eat a wider variety of foods at age 6. Talk about a victory for pickiness!

My philosophy has always been to cook once for everyone in our family--and with three kids 5 and under, it's a true sanity saver. For this recipe, I used both the zucchini and one batch of nut-free pesto to create meals for everyone from my 10-month old baby to my 40-year-old husband and everyone in between. My kids love pesto--they call it their favorite green sauce, and we put it on everything: as a spread on a sandwich, stirred into risottos, and tossed with pasta. I used a nut-free version here since I'm not quite ready to introduce nuts to the baby, and so that I dont have to worry about sending the kids to school with it on a sandwich. I also gave it an extra health boost by adding in a heaping handful of baby spinach, which has such a mild flavor that no one can tell the difference!

I started by shredded a combination of zucchini and summer squash and sauteeing it in olive oil in a deep lidded skillet until it was completely soft. While that was wilting down, I made the pesto in a food processor, and scraped all by about 1 teaspoon out into a bowl (it seriously takes less than 2 minutes to make!). For the baby, I removed 1 1/2 cups of sauteed zucchini and summer squash, and added it to the food processor and blended it all together. Her meal was done! I serve it in these Sage Squeezie Double Zipper Reusable Food Pouches

The rest of the squash I left in the saute pan and continued with the pesto chicken risotto (the full recipe is below). It's an easy, veggie-packed, 1 pot meal that my family loves. I hope yours does too!

NUT-FREE PESTO In a food processor, combine 1 bunch of fresh basil (discard the thick stems), a handful of fresh baby spinach, 1 garlic clove, juice of 1 lemon, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, and a half cup of olive oil. Process until smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate all the ingredients.

PESTO CHICKEN RISOTTO Ingredients: 2 tablespoons olive oil 3 pounds of zucchini and summer squash, shredded 2 cups organic brown rice 1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs 5 1/2 cups organic low sodium chicken stock 1/4 cup pesto or more to taste* extra parmesan cheese for serving

Directions: In a deep lidded skillet over medium heat, saute squash in olive oil until wilted. Remove 1.5 cups for baby food if using. Add rice, chicken, and stock to the skillet. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is cooked through, around 30 minutes. Stir in pesto, adding more to taste. Serve with extra grated cheese.

*store leftover pesto in the freezer in a covered airtight container